Survival Tips for When Your Car Doesn’t Start in Cold Weather

If you live in a climate that has cold winters, then you likely know the challenges of starting a car in cold weather. Starting a car can be especially difficult if the temperature drops below zero degrees Fahrenheit and you park your car outside of a garage. So what do you do if your car doesn’t start in cold weather? Follow these survival tips, and you’ll be safely on your way this winter.

Is it bad to start a car in cold weather?

View of an SUV through an ice cave, highlighting article about how to start a car in cold weather
SUV parked on a frozen lake | Vadim Artyukhin

Is it bad to start a car in cold weather? How often should you start your car? Is it bad to let your car idle in cold weather? Cold weather is bad for your car, so you don’t want to worsen things. As the temperature drops, various car fluids thicken, such as the oil, antifreeze, and transmission fluid. Furthermore, low temperatures increase the electrical resistance of cars, which makes it more difficult for the battery and spark plugs to function.

While three or four attempts to start a car in cold weather should be fine, any number of times beyond that might strain your car. Also, a highly debated topic is whether or not it’s bad to let your car idle in cold weather during the winter. While a few minutes to warm up the car and defrost the ice from the windshield should be ok, any amount of time idling beyond that is harmful to your car.

How to start a car when the temperature is very low

Car driving on an icy road, highlighting article about how to start a car in cold weather
Car on an icy road | Matt Collamer

There are several tips that you can use to start a car in cold weather, as detailed by Tires Plus. You can “cycle” the key. For key cycling, first make sure that things like the radio, heater, and headlights are turned to the “off” setting so that they don’t take energy from the car battery and engine. Next, insert the key in the ignition and turn it from the “off” to the “start” setting about 10 times.” This key cycling helps warm up the battery and starter. If this method doesn’t work for the first attempt, wait around one minute and do it again. 

You can also use an engine block heater. An engine block heater is a device that warms the engine and fluids of a car. If the temperature is close to zero degrees Fahrenheit or lower, plug in the engine block heater. Additionally, to make things easier and more convenient, some engine block heaters have a timer and a remote control function. 

Sometimes, a car needs a quick boost. If neither of the above methods works, give your car a jumpstart. Grab some jumper cables and call on a family member, friend, or neighbor to give you a helping hand to jumpstart your car.

As a last resort, call roadside assistance to help start your car in cold weather. Some automakers include free or low-cost roadside assistance when you buy a new car. You can also get a AAA membership, which provides roadside assistance as well. Beyond that, you can call a local automotive service department. 

Winter car care tips to prevent a car from not starting in cold weather

In addition to the tips to start your car in cold weather, you can take preventative measures. Be sure to follow the scheduled service for your car. Your local car dealer or service department can properly winterize your car and check such things as the battery, fluids, and tires. The most crucial thing to check with regards to cold weather is the battery. If you have an old and deficient battery, your car will more likely have trouble starting in low temperatures. 

Also, it would be ideal if you could park your car in a garage or a carport. However, if that’s not an option, consider buying a weatherproof car cover to help insulate it from cold weather. 

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